Ryan Crocker, one of America’s most impressive active diplomats, is retiring after decades of tireless service. His advice for American policymakers is outlined in this New York Times profile:
Remember the law of unintended consequences.Recognize the limits of the United States’ actual capabilities.Understand that getting out of a conflict once you are in can often be dangerous and as destructive for the country as the original conflict.
Those sound like words of wisdom.Crocker stresses the need for a deep knowledge of the places where we seek to intervene:
We’re a superpower, we don’t fight on our territory, but that means you are in somebody else’s stadium, playing by somebody else’s ground rules, and you have to understand the environment, the history, the politics of the country you wish to intervene in.
Of course, caution can cut both ways. Being overly cautious can have negative consequences too—like the radicalization of the Syrian opposition. On America’s ability to change things for the better there, Crocker is pessimistic:
“We’ve been writing memos to policy makers with the subject line ‘Levers on Syria’ for decades,” he said. “Well, you know, the reality was those levers didn’t exist.”Now, he added: “I’m not sure we can do much to influence it.”
Ambassador Crocker, you will be sorely missed.